Inside the Step by Step exhibit: “‘An Equal Chance to Get the Job, To Keep the Job, To Grow on the Job,’ by New York State Commission Against Discrimination, 1948
The following is the second in a series of inside looks at the current exhibition in the Industrial Relations (IR) Section at Princeton University.
Curated by Charissa Jefferson, Labor Economics Librarian and liaison to the Industrial Relations Section, “Step by Step: The March Towards Equal Employment Opportunity” was jointly developed by Princeton University Library (PUL) and the IR Section. Using a series of pamphlets, the exhibit aims to highlight the political origins of antidiscrimination in the workplace.
“An Equal Chance to Get the Job, To Keep the Job, To Grow on the Job,” by New York State Commission Against Discrimination, 1948
This mini-booklet with sketchbook-like graphic black and white illustrations offers a lesson to its readers on how employment discrimination affects the overall economy and the bottom line of the business when qualified workers are denied hiring opportunities. At the preface, the booklet describes the law against discrimination in the the state of New York and how the role of the New York State Commission Against Discrimination (NYSCAD) is to uphold that law by ensuring compliance, providing guidance and investigation, and then mediating wherever necessary.
After the introductory explanation, the booklet presents a fictional story of three men who apply for a vacancy for a machinist position at the same company. Each is rejected and feels they have fallen victim to hiring discrimination because of their racial or religious minority. Another character encourages them to file a complaint with the NYSCAD where they meet with a field representative who hears their story and investigates all the facts, and then defers to a commissioner who will then correspond directly with the company. The commissioner acts as an intermediary between the applicants and a representative of the company.
To better help this person who represents the company understand, the commissioner explains the impact of discrimination not on the victim but on the company and the economy. The commissioner points out that if a person cannot work, it is not possible for that person to participate in the larger economy, and therefore is unable to purchase the items in which the business is selling. At this point, the representative of the company realizes, not only is discrimination bad for humanity, but it hurts his bottom line at the end of the day.
This lesson seemed to be a recurring theme throughout the educational literature distributed by NYSCAD–and by the federal government later during the civil rights era–to business owners, executives, or hiring managers. Agencies continued to address the issue of an apathetic audience and the questions of “what’s in it for me?” or “why should I care?” while legislatures rolled out the newly adopted anti-discrimination laws.
New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts were the first states to enforce anti-discrimination laws beginning in 1945. State governments relied on agencies such as NYSCAD to disseminate materials like this pamphlet to educate constituents and to provide a better understanding of how to live with these laws in everyday practice and how they could be mutually beneficial.
About the exhibition
“Step by Step: The March Towards Equal Employment Opportunity” will be on display from January 14, 2022 through August 15, 2022 in the Industrial Relations Section in the Louis A. Simpson Building at Princeton University.
Discover more about "Step by Step" through PUL's online exhibition.
Find out more about the Industrial Relations Section and its current research interests. Check out the “Discrimination in Employment” Libguide. For more information, contact Charissa Jefferson, Labor Economics Librarian and liaison to the Industrial Relations Section
Published May 5, 2022